One Hundred Years of Servitude
- Political Economy of Tea Plantations in Colonial Assam
This book presents a hundred-year history of tea plantations in the Assam (Brahmaputra) Valley during British colonial rule in India. It explores a world where more than two million migrant laborers worked under conditions of indentured servitude in the plantations, producing tea for an increasingly profitable global market. Behal traces the genesis and early development of the tea industry; the links between the colonial state and private British capital in fostering plantations in Assam; the nature of the 'tea mania,' and its consequences, which led to the emergence of the indenture labor system in Assam's tea gardens. The book describes process of labor mobilization and the nature of labor relations in the tea plantations. It deals with the operational aspects of labor recruitment, which involved the transportation and employment of migrant laborers, from the 1860s until the the indenture system was formally dismantled. It focuses on the power structure that ruled over the organization of production and labor relations within the plantations.This power structure operated at two levels: around the Indian Tea Association, the apex body of the tea industry, and the tea planters' coercive authority. The book examines the role of the colonial state and provides statistics on production, while also telling the story of everyday labor life in the tea gardens, and of the resistance to the oppressive regime by 'coolie' laborers who had been coerced into generational servitude. It analyses the forms of their protests, and raises the question whether the transformation of these migrant agrarian communities working in conditions of unfree labor was proletarian in nature.
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